JOHANNESBURG – There are three interesting pieces of news related to space, one far and two near.
In 1977, two spacecraft were launched to investigate the outer planets, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. They did their jobs successfully, but kept traveling.
They have been in space for over 43 years now. They have both left our solar system and are now running into international space from various stars. When they left the solar system they were both able to send back an interesting news that there is indeed a limit to the influence of our sun.
They effectively passed through the “wall” in interstellar space, and are constantly sending back information, to the delight of scientists who have never expected this spacecraft to last so long. They are traveling so fast that they cover the distance from Pretoria to Cape Town in 1.5 minutes.
Voyager 2 is traveling in such a “south” direction that the only radio dish on Earth that can reach it is near Canberra, Australia. Voyager 1 is now 22 billion kilometers away, and Voyager 2 is 19 billion kilometers away, the distance growing rapidly.
Both spacecraft still have power, as they are nuclear-powered, but the nuclear source runs out in five years.
It was not expected that the spacecraft would continue to move beyond the edge of the solar system, but surprisingly they did. They also each have less comp-on-board computing power than smartphones, so it shows how technologically advanced they are on Earth during their long journeys.
In contrast, part of the “near” news is that in order to act like beta testers, Starlink has been opened to people roaming the Satellite Internet network. The last few days have seen amazing download speeds of 160 megabits per second (Mbps). When SpaceX launched the beta test on October 26, Elon Musk kept expectations low and said speeds of 50 to 150 Mbps would be “better than nothing” for beginners.
The Starlink system was able to be operational for testing as soon as 800 satellites were launched. But the initial target is to launch 12 000 satellites. So passing the 800 mark is just the first stage of the big dream.
This type of internet connection, anywhere on earth, offers a variety of business opportunities that have yet to be appreciated. Like the Voyager spacecraft, people will say in the years to come: “Who would have imagined that the Starlink alliance would lead to this.”
The other “near” space news is that the next SpaceX Crew launch is targeted for Saturday. It is called Crew-1, and it will take four astronauts to the International Space Station, three men and one woman.
From the main public point of view all kinds of commercial ventures are considered for location, and for the moon and Mars. This ranges from mining to taking advantage of space vacuum as well as sterile conditions.
With the recent discovery that there is more water on the Moon and Mars than previously thought, the prospects for a permanent human base have improved dramatically, so who knows what the commercialization of space, the Moon and Mars, will bring.
Dr. K. Calvin Cam is a nuclear physicist and chief executive of Stratech Business Strategy Consultants.
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